Daughter Smiles

20160211_193815This is not what I expected to write about today.  Heck, I have four other topics written down and ready to write, but I really like thinking about this one.

I have written about what a daughter means to her father many times.  I think about it this way — I married someone who takes me to one level, a relationship with a girl who goes beyond what I have known before with a female, closer than any relationship before if not just because of the obvious physical bond.  Marriage brought me to know a woman in a way that goes beyond what I know with my mother, a closeness and intimacy that I believe God created.  My wife wanted me in a way no other woman could or should know me, a need to please me and know me that God indeed created, a completion and pleasure that filled the purpose God created me for.  And my wife gave to me a daughter, who completes me in a whole other way.  I get to see myself through someone who looks at me in a way that comes closer to God than I ever will be for anyone else.

My daughter is someone who is me in a way that no one else will ever be.  She wants to please me in a way her mother never can.  I am her hero, a man who has little to do but to be her father.

That is all that I want.

God gave me a blue eyed redhead, a curly haired strong willed and confident little woman.  There is so much of me in her.  I admire her for shunning what her mother tried to force on her, yet absorbing the best of what her mother and I have to offer to her.  She is motivated, vulnerable yet confident, an intelligent girl who intimidates all the boys who are looking for the weak and easy.  My girl is a leader.  My girl fills in the gaps of what God did not give her by sheer will.

And she wants to please me, like only a daughter can.  I understand now what the word complete means, because my wife can not complete me on her own, but the daughter she gave to me helps bring that completion to its full.

My daughter is not an athlete.  I am.  Let’s not go too far with that.  I am not a truly gifted athlete, but I have a bit more physical gift than your average Joe.  Baseball and basketball are joys of mine, enough that I have experienced enough success playing those sports in my lifetime that I can call myself above average.  Both of my children have grown up with a father who likes to play sports.

Each of my children have played sports from an early age, my son starting baseball at age 4, a boy who was larger than his classmates who elicited bigger expectations than he was ready to fulfill.  My daughter decided to try softball as a little girl, never really gifted but a favorite because of the effort she always demonstrated.  Her first year of fast pitch softball, her coach gave her the “Charlotte Hustle” award at the end of the season.

Sports were never really my daughter’s thing.  She turned to her studies and music as she progressed through school.  I didn’t care.  She was my daughter and I always have liked what she has done.  I have always liked when she looked at me for validation, wanted my approval, so easy to give.  My daughter has always been better simply because she wants to be.

Maybe that’s why, when she turned 13 and wanted to try playing organized basketball, I was so happy.  It wasn’t that she wanted to play basketball, I had a boy who loved to play the game.  My daughter wanted to play basketball for me.  If she wanted to play basketball, then I had to be her coach.

So I did.  And she succeeded.  A few months after she started park district basketball, she made the middle school team.  My daughter was a started on that team.  I like to think that some of her success was because she listened to me, played the game the way I taught her to play the game.  Her game was smart, played in a way that took advantage of the advantages that her body and abilities gave to her.  My daughter played two years of organized basketball, then focused on priorities of academics and music.  She liked to play the game, but she knew what would be better for her future.

Six years later, she still likes the game.  Today she texted me, excited to tell me about how well she played in an intramural basketball game at college. She wanted me to know.  Maybe I will win like you did, she told me.  My daughter is the only one that remembers and cherishes the stories I have from winning college intramural basketball championships.

Daughers are cool.  Daughters are a gift to their fathers.

 

 

Super Bowl Shuffle

I don’t know.  There was a time when I knew how to dance.

Have you ever experienced an emotion that feels like a mutation, a tiny horrid little piece of dust slime that somehow figures out how to evolve into a form of life, then crawls inside of you?  The creature digs into your heart, an uncomfortable manifestation that tries to mimic what it finds there.  No amount of effort will make it go away.  The pain is unfamiliar yet close to what you have encountered before, a bother, an aggravation.

That happened to me yesterday.

It was one of those times when I needed to feel like I was wrong, as a means of justifying how I felt.  I needed guilt.  I needed permission from myself to be selfish.  There are plenty of times when I know I have been wrong, fought with the guilt, knew I was being selfish.  That tiny horrid little evolved creature latched onto those feelings and fed on them.

My wife and I were invited to a Super Bowl party, a small affair with three couples that we know well.  These were people that I like, people I know that my timid wife is comfortable with.  Most years I sit at home, eat my snacks in front of my own TV, watch the majority of the game by myself.  There were years we went to parties together, mostly before children came into the picture for us, but for the most part the Super Bowl has been celebrated in solitary glee.  So when the email invitation came, I asked my wife about it, received an answer that masqueraded as a yes, then RSVP’d that we would attend.  My friend enthusiastically acknowledged, followed up yesterday morning with a text saying that he was looking forward to seeing us.

Saturday night came.  Our 16 year old boy announced that he was staying home to watch the game.  Suddenly, I could see my wife waffling.  Question marks filled our tiny living room.  There was no way she would leave him at home to watch the game by himself.  There was no chance at all that she would consider bringing him along to the party with us.

I was doomed and I knew it.  The boy would watch for five minutes, then retreat to his room.

The guilt.  The selfishness.  Both worked on me.  I still feel both.  I wanted to go to that party.  I wanted to enjoy some time with other couples.  I wanted to enjoy a night where I felt like my wife was doing something with me, enjoying a time away.

She knew I wanted to go.  Time came yesterday afternoon to leave for the party.  She was dressed and ready to go.

Instead, she continued to wrestle with our boy, could not decide what to do.  He got in the shower, yelled at her to go get snacks for him, make something for him to eat during the game, stay home.  I told her that we should just go to the party for an hour or so, then excuse ourselves.  We had said we would go.

She wouldn’t go.  I sat at the top of our stairs and a few feet away from her, my head in my hands.  That tiny horrid little creature was working on my heart.  I was beginning to experience a hurt that I can not describe.  I had felt something like it before, but never mixed with the other emotions of guilt and selfishness and fault.  Neither was I angry.

If I went to the party without her, I would be the only one there without their wife or girlfriend.  They would know why.  If I did not show, these friends would know enough about us to know why.

I stood up.  I told her that I was going.  If she wanted to join me, then she could call and I would tell her how to get there.  I went, told my friends that my wife had decided to stay home with our son, gave her blessing for me to go to the party, might join us later.

I knew she had made her choice.  It is the choice she always makes.  Just once I wanted it to be different.  It needs to be different.  The hurt felt different this time thanks to that tiny horrid little creature.

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Today I finally went to the Five Love Languages web site and took the love languages quiz.  Honestly, I hate stuff like that.   But I hoped taking that quiz might help me understand things a little more.  Here is how I scored.  The maximum points for any category is 12:

Physical Touch – 10, Acts of Service – 9, Words of Affirmation – 6, Quality Time – 5, Receiving Gifts – 0

It should be no surprise that as a guy, my highest score was the Physical Touch category.  What that really indicates is that I have a strong need for intimacy, a sense of closeness, something that involves companionship.  Maybe yesterday played on my need for intimacy, closeness, companionship.  I think I have been clinging to the hope that will return, that she wants to show me our marriage is worth saving.  That she wants to be with me.  Instead, she made the choice she will always make.  There was a feeling of finality when I walked out the door to that party yesterday.

Diary of a Non-Wimpy Kid

A popular topic for many male comedians seems to be the angst they feel when remembering the suffering of school gym class.  They recall the hilarious horror of being forced to climb a rope, wrestle a sweaty Sasquatch, or run a torturous mile around the track while being harassed by a drill sergeant-esque P.E. teacher.  If it is a movie there is always a brainless early blooming bully that makes the pipsqueak’s academic adventure a living hell, an antagonist with evil intent, or the perfect creation whose ultimate goal in life is to advance their fragile ego by mocking those less physically fortunate.  In that world, gym class is/was Dante’s inferno, purgatory on earth, a suffering rite of passage survived with dread and agony.

I rarely find those portrayals funny.  Maybe it’s because I was less like Greg Heffley (Diary of a Wimpy Kid), more like Jesse and Leslie (Bridge to Terabithia) when I was in school.  Gym class was fun to me.  Unless it was square dancing week, which I loathed, I was the guy who looked forward to gym class each day.  In the hall after first period, I always looked for the guys who had first period gym class and asked them what they did in class that day.  I liked to run, loved any kind of ball game, accepted fitness testing as a competition and challenge.  Never was I tempted to hide under the bleachers.  I lined up at the start line with the thrill of the race coursing through me.

Don’t get me wrong.  Steve Henry was not the big oaf nor was he the overly physically gifted perfect creation (I know that’s hard to believe).  On the contrary, both the Greg Heffleys and the Sasquatch despised me and for the same reason.  Steve Henry was the average overly enthusiastic gym class kid.  I was the try hard, the guy the gym teacher would use as an example in an attempt to get my classmates to break a sweat.

The only near exception to my gym class enthusiasm existed at the beginning of my freshman year of high school.  At that time, I still had a little bit of growing to do, was probably 5’11” tall, 130# when sopping wet.. and all of my weight was below the waist (no, not that.. I was not and never will be a porn star candidate).  I still brought bounding enthusiasm to each gym class but coming to gym class some days held a bit of an element of fear.  Why?  Neanderthals.  Seniors who must have surely been held out of school to work the fields, man boys who wanted to put gym class over achievers like me out of commission.

There were two man boys in particular who struck exceptional fear in my heart — Robbie Cheffe and Elmer Boehme, both high school seniors.  Robbie had a large black curly afro, mutton chop side burns and a fu Manchu, covered in black body hair.  His nick name was “Fur Burger”.  Elmer was an unwashed beast, lived in an old wood sided farm house that looked like it had been painted white at one time, surrounded by the carcasses of old farm machinery and trucks.  Elmer had long scraggly hair and an equally scraggly dirty beard.  He was large and muscled from years of farm labor.  Elmer’s presence always made itself known before he entered a room, if you get my “drift”.  Both guys usually smoked outside of the gym before class, a practice that baffled my young mind.  And they both despised my type, an opinion that was not helped by the gym class teacher the first week of gym class.

Robbie and Elmer were not gym class over achievers, especially when it came to running.  The first week of gym class focused on physical training, all spent out on the high school’s track.  I loved it, eagerly ran each assignment and finished before most of the class.  Our gym teacher had a bright idea to motivate the seniors in our class.  He called me to the front of the class.  Next, he called Robbie and Elmer to stand next to me.  If either Robbie or Elmer could beat me in a mile race, the teacher announced to our class, all seniors in our class would be exempt from running the rest of the week.  If Robbie and Elmer did not finish the race, all the seniors would be running double laps.  A collective groan emanated from the class, simultaneous grunts from each of the hulks next to me as we lined up at the start line.  Our gym teacher had an even more humiliating idea, likely inspired by the glares and groans from Robbie and Elmer as they stood next to me.  He led both seniors to the other side of the track, lined them up there to give them a half lap head start on the quarter mile track, a smug smirk on his face as he returned to where I lined up to race.

The starting gun went off as I casually sprinted off the line.  My hope was that pride would motivate my opponents to at least try.  They did try.  But it wasn’t fair.  I passed both before they finished the first lap, their bulk and smoking habit working against them.  I slowed down, tried to keep them close, but the gym teacher yelled at me to keep running.  It was never a fair contest and I finished more than a full lap ahead of them, barely a sweat on and my breathing easy as I watch both man boys wheeze around the track.  To their credit, they kept running.  They crossed the finished line, bent over and throwing up.

And I was a marked freshman from that day on.  Out of sheer self preservation, I usually had to skip taking a shower and changed into my clothes as quick as possible.  Luckily, my gym locker was close to the gym teacher’s office or I may not have survived the first semester of my freshman year.

With cold weather our class moved inside.  Our gym teacher always ended class with a line drill, where everyone in class lined up at the baseline to wait for the whistle.  When the whistle blew, everyone ran to the first free throw line, touched it and ran back, repeating the drill at half court, the other free throw line and baseline, finishing where we started.  You may have guessed that the teacher used me to motivate the seniors and our other classmates.  If you didn’t beat Steve Henry, you had to run the lines again.  Stupidly, mainly because I loved to run the lines, I ran them full speed.  How I lived through that first semester is a mystery.

A favorite Friday gym class activity, one that most people enjoyed, was a sadistic game called Team Handball.  The wooden bleachers were usually pulled up to the side so that two games could be played simultaneously.  A large box was taped on the bleachers at each end of the court to make a goal.  A small gym ball was tossed onto the court, passed around with the objective that the ball be thrown past a goalie inside the taped goal box.  When thrown by the right person, the small gym ball became a frightening projectile, a small cannon ball that hurt like the dickens when it hit you.  Most goalies left class with round purple bruises on their bodies.

Robbie and Elmer were proficient at team handball.  They relished the fear that they created, knocking players down and throwing the ball so hard that we all sweared there was the smell of burning rubber.  No one wanted to play goal when either Neanderthal was on the opposing team.

Can you guess what the gym teacher did?  I bet you can.  One Friday, both Robbie and Elmer ended up on the same team.  No one wanted to play goalie against them.  That’s right.  The teacher put me in goal.

Crap.  I was scared to death.  For possibility the first time, I was not enthusiastic about the gym activity of the day.  My terror escalated as both Robbie and Elmer sneered in my direction, drool dripping as they expressed their intentions of revenge.

You’re going to die, freshman.

The whistle blew and the gym ball was tossed on the court.  Everyone wanted to see the carnage that would be inflicted on me as goalie, especially the seniors on the court.  First pass was to Robbie, the area around him cleared to give him a clear shot.

I remember screaming as the smoking ball rushed at my face.  I closed my eyes to prepare for the certainty of intense pain.

To this day, I don’t know how it happened.  Much to my astonishment, I caught the ball, perhaps the first miracle that I had ever experienced in my life.  Incredulous, I looked at the ball in my hands and passed it to a team mate who easily scored a goal against opponents who were frozen in amazement.

The whistle blew, the ball was tossed on the court again, our gym teacher not only smirking but laughing hysterically at what had just happened.  This time the ball went to a determined Elmer, drool still on his lips from his earlier anticipation of destruction.  Elmer laughed maniacally as he fired the ball at me with a loud grunt.

I smiled this time, even as I still shook from the adrenaline rush that lingered from the previous shot on goal.  This time I smirked nervously, caught the ball with the confidence learned from unexpected success.  Once again, my team scored an easy goal.

Don’t ask me who won that game.  I don’t remember.  Most likely, it was my team.

What I do remember, besides the victory of stopping those shots on goal, was the respect I won from Robbie and Elmer.  From that day on, I could do no wrong.  They told their friends, even protected me in the halls if someone tried to cross me.

And that day helped Robbie and Elmer.  It was the last day that the gym teacher used me as motivation for the seniors.  Maybe he didn’t need to after that.  I don’t know.  I’m glad I was too stupid to shrink away from the challenge, more than a little bit grateful that I lived to tell this story….

Matchmaker Matchmaker

Any time there are new surroundings, such as the new office suite my company occupied at the beginning of this year, there are adjustments required.  Our previous digs were three separate rented offices at a Regus center, a place that had an atmosphere that resembled the land of the misfit toys.  There was a mish mash of personalities and nationalities as well as backgrounds, all melded next together in our little rented rooms.  I quickly learned the intricacies of living at the Regus center — kitchen etiquette, who naturally avoided eye contact out of shyness and who avoided eye contact out of culture (or a lack of proper English skills), how loud to play my music, when to say hello in passing or simply bow my head, who liked the Cubs (bleah), and who enjoyed stopping for conversation.  The front desk receptionist at the Regus center had a wicked sense of humor and adopted me as her big brother from another mother.  There were certain times of the day when she and my friend Mayank required me to meet with them at the front desk, exchanging barbs and stories.  Annie, the receptionist, dubbed Mayank and I the “Mayors of Regus”.

So when my three person company decided that we would move to a less expensive, more business appropriate suite of offices in another part of town, parting was difficult.  I and our office manager had adjusted to life at Regus quite well in the time we were there.  We had made a lot of friends, liked the atmosphere and diversity that the center offered.  Our boss joked that moving to the quiet, private office suite would be an adjustment simply because I would lose that social life I enjoyed in the closeness of the Regus center.

And I do miss life there, somewhat, although our new place is so nice that I do not miss the closet like office that I had at the Regus center.  My new office has windows from floor to ceiling at the front, facing an airy courtyard with high exposed natural wood ceiling and skylights.  Each person in my company selected their own office furniture before we moved, so I have a spacious L shaped desk with a large matching credenza.  The natural light from the ceiling skylights allows the large plants in our office to thrive.  My office manager and I have offices next to each other with an open ceiling between us, enabling immediate communication we didn’t have before, when either of us had to leave our office and walk down the hall to work on something together.  There is a little library in the middle of our suite, with our boss occupying a generous office that overlooks a pond below, his office big enough for a six chair conference table and large screen TV.  There is a large storage closet which means that my office is no longer the company stock room.  Our company name is on our front door, a banner announcing our company name and a featured product greeting us each day in the lobby.

It’s our home.  No longer are we wandering misfits looking for a place of our own.

No one in my little company is surprised that I have met all of the people in the suites that surround us.  If our new neighbors didn’t stop by to introduce themselves, I dropped in on them and introduced myself.  Those introductions have already paid off in the form of IT tech assistance from our next door neighbor, a borrowed fax machine from the insurance broker’s office on the other side of us, and a notary from the title office below us.

As I said, there are adjustments required at the new place.  Every place seems to have their own little rules or nuances.  Our new office center has its quirks, little bits of unwritten procedures that you need to follow.

You’re not doing it right! was my fear for the first few weeks in my new office.  Like Michael Keaton’s character in Mister Mom (old enough that many may not get the reference — but there is no chili on the walls yet), it took a while to learn the right way to do things, but quickly enough I am getting it.  The rules are a lot more simple at this new place.

A lot of the rules seem to involve the glass fronts on most of our suites.  Some people don’t like to make eye contact when someone passes by, a bit like those people I passed in the halls at Regus.  Some like to catch my eye as they pass my office, smile and wave hello.  Others only make eye contact and say hello if they see me in the hall.

And no one talks to each other in the restroom.  It’s not a guy rule, although most guys are freaked out if you talk to them when you are standing next to them at the urinal.  I have to admit, if a guy talks to me then and he is looking down, it is a little creepy.  At Regus, though, I had several friends that I knew well enough to have loud conversations with while standing in tinkle town.  TMI?

20160202_074245Some of the adjustments at the new office has to do with using the men’s room.  Our suite is on the second floor, the one bathroom accessed with a key attached to a large blue plastic tag.  Traffic through the bathroom is light compared to our previous place, just a few people using the men’s room.

There is meditation boy, who always enters the only stall early in the morning, stays there for an eternity.  No one is that constantly constipated.

Matchstick man is one of those fastidious OCD types whose compulsion reaches to the threat of his own stink.  His presence lingers for at least an hour after he has used the facilities, the stench of Sulphur from the match he lit during or after his poop lasting nearly as long as meditation boy’s stay earlier in the day.  There is always a lone matchstick floating in the toilet bowl, further announcing matchstick man’s visit.  I entered the men’s room as matchstick man was leaving a few days ago, a book of Caesar’s Palace matches and a novel under his arm.  The guy was carefully groomed and creased.  I’m not sure if he was embarrassed or what, but he didn’t even acknowledge my presence in the small room.

I am going to leave a box of matches for him some time, as a peace offering.

My boss and I also got a sick laugh out of the facility manager’s placement choice of a bulletin to announce the death of the building maintenance man.  It was appropriate, I suppose.  She wrote a nice eulogy, placed it on each bathroom door in the building.

I’m sick, I know.  So is my boss.  He chortled maniacally when he saw the announcement.

January Doody

It’s the last day of January.  The quest to find the type of true meaning that keeps me off of the couch is still in full swing.  Last weekend the quest found me removing the danger of avalanche from my walk in closet, in the process I found myself.. weeping over lost tee shirts.   Then I came out of the closet.  I needed something to keep me out of the closet this weekend.

Over lunch, I made an announcement to my wife and daughter, one I am quite sure they were not expecting.

“I think I am going to clean up the dog poop in the back yard this afternoon.”

My daughter gagged on her lasagna.  Miriam looked at me quizzically (dang, I like that word).

“What are you going to do with it?”

Our daughter gagged on her lasagna again.

Dog poop removal has been a bone of contention in our household for many years.  My wife had asked a loaded question, one might say it was a crappy question, a reason for me to call her a turd.

Are husbands allowed to call their wife a turd?

She had really stepped in it this time.

I should probably take a quick step back, catch my breath (or hold my breath) for a moment.  Today was a very mild day for January in Chicagoland.  It was fifty degrees, cloudy and a bit damp, but otherwise balmy.  There is no snow on the ground, but the ground is still frozen, and Nick the Sheltie’s modest droppings are still solid ice.  That’s perfect shit scooping conditions, my friends.  Considering it has been since November since my last forage for feces, the build up was considerable.  Left on its own, the volume of dog muffins might just get out of control.  So, with proper urgency, my quest alarm went off as I observed the back yard while we chowed down on our lunch lasagna.  It sounded a bit like this in my head….  DUNG!!!!

Can you tell that I looked up synonyms for poop?

As I said, dog poop removal has been a bone of contention in our household for many years.  Mostly the job of removal has been on my shoes, especially since I am the one who carefully care takes the lawn.  During the summer, I usually scan the back yard for dog mines before mowing the lawn, although often enough I just hope that the mower chops it up.  There have been a few times where I unexpectedly found something squishing up between my toes.  Those were the days when I mowed in my bare feet, the brown mixing quite nicely with the grass stains on my feet.  Occasionally, though, Miriam will pick up poop.  I think she does it just to show me the proper way to forage for fecal matter.  In her mind, I don’t do it right.

Don’t go there…

That has happened before.  Garbage duty used to be my responsibility, but at some point I discovered that she was going out and rearranging the way I had arranged the garbage and recycling for pick up.  I let her, so much that somehow garbage duty became her doody.

There are so many synonyms for poop.

When she asked what I was going to do with it, what she was really asking was whether I was going to gather the frozen feces into plastic grocery bags.  That’s what she does.  Her idea is to throw those bags into the trash.  That doesn’t always happen.  Many a 90 degree summer day have I opened the door to our back yard shed to be knocked over by the stench from bags of dog poop.

My method is simple.  I browse the grassy knoll with spade in hand, scoop the deadly excrement until the blade is full, then carry it back to the corner of our garden.  I fling it up against the stockade fence where it scatters into the corner.  Dust to dust, one might say.

I answered the question of what I would doo with number two by saying that it would be the usual method of manure manipulation.

“That stinks!”  she exclaimed.

Our daughter took the rest of her plate of lasagna to the sink.

In the end, my method won out.  It was my job to do, after all, and I was going to poo it my way.  I didn’t give doodly squat what my wife thought.  As I started the job and observed the amount of accumulation, I can understand why Nick the Sheltie always tiptoes daintily in circles around the yard, fluffy tail held high in the air, as he performs his doody.  He’s trying to avoid the piles.

Another quest for couch avoidance has been accomplished.  I have done my doody duty.

Any suggestions for next weekend?

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Quiet Saturday

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Saturday morning quiet is where I exist at this moment.  My family, including the dog and cat, are resting comfortably in their beds upstairs, asleep after their late Friday night revelry.  Alyssa is home for a short two day visit, snuggled up with her mother in her bedroom last night for a pajama party as I ventured down the hallway to bed, a quick “good night” as I stuck my head in to check on them.  The MacBook was out and ready for what was most likely a Gilmore Girl marathon.  Nate was perched in his usual spot, Xbox blazing and cell phone out as he kibitzed with his teenage buddies.  I got out of bed around 5 this morning to shut his bedroom light off, his Xbox controller still in contact with his outstretched fingertips on the bed next to his snoring carcass.  He won’t stir until at least noon today.  There is probably another hour of quiet left in my morning, the girls and animals likely will emerge from the chrysalis of sleep about mid morning.

Me?  I’m plotting my day’s activities as I write.  Last Saturday was a ice/snow ride in the woods, today too warm and sloppy for a ride in the woods.  Sloppy is not what I prefer.  My road bike needs a new hoop for the rear wheel, so it’s not going to come out of the garage.  An old Univega hybrid, once the bike I road almost exclusively for my work commute, is hanging from the garage rafters and waiting to be reconditioned.  Today seems like a good idea to start that project, perhaps an hour or so ride on that bike is in order.  Tax documents also are ready for me, so I may dive in on that chore later on today.  Doing the taxes is not something that I loathe, but it’s one of those chores that I like to get out of the way early.  With a child in college, the FAFSA requires the information from a completed and accepted tax return, so there is extra motivation to get the taxes done early.

In that Alaska coffee cup is a perfect brew of Starbucks Italian Roast.  If the coffee is portioned correctly for the brew, a task I have somehow perfected as of late, the sweetness of the dark roast is further enhanced by the sweetener added.  There are two sips left in my third cup of that brew, almost intoxicating to me on a morning like this.  When the seal breaks, I will get a head start on my Saturday workout.

This year has already given me opportunity to struggle with a tough decision.   That Alaska coffee cup reminds me of that decision, one that I finally made a little over a week ago.  “Finally” is a necessary word for this story because the initial decision wasn’t accepted, forcing me to reconsider and make a stronger case for the decision.  I debated with myself as well as my wife for more than a month before making the announcement — I am not going to Alaska with my family this June for a wedding.

A few months ago, our daughter was asked to be a bridesmaid by her cousin for her June wedding.  We have known for several months about the wedding, excited for Mir’s family and her niece.  Inga has lived with us several times over the years, a happy little blonde pixie who I love like she is my own daughter.  Her father, Dan, is one of my favorite brother-in-laws (I have four) mainly because our personalities and interests are very similar.  When we found out about the wedding, my wife was supposed to be putting away money from her paycheck for the trip and airfare.  January came, time to buy the plane tickets if they were going to be affordable, her sisters putting the pressure on her to buy the tickets now.

One problem — my wife has not saved a penny for the plane tickets or trip.  I can’t pay for them as my paycheck pays all of our bills, little to none in the budget from my pay to save for a trip to Alaska.  I get paid twice a month, the first paycheck going towards the major bills with just enough left for fuel and food, the second covering the rest of the bills (car payment, cell phones for wife/kids, etc).  Besides air fare expenses for the trip, there are going to be plenty of expenses for the 11 days that my wife wants to stay in Alaska.  Not only is my wife not saving money for the plane tickets, she is not regulating her spending, often going through her pay so quickly that she is borrowing from our joint account (my paycheck.. hers goes into her own account).

The other problem was the time away from work needed for the trip.  When I said no to the Alaska trip the first time, which was a few weeks ago, time away from work was the reason that I gave.  If I went for the full trip, it would mean 8 working days away from my job.  In a three person office, at the height of our busiest time of the year, it would be a bad thing.  My boss flinched when I told him I needed to take 8 days in June.  He was fair to me, said it was my time to take but hoped that I could at least reduce some of that time.  That probably meant going just for the wedding and coming home early, without my family.  Unfortunately, the discount plane tickets had to be purchased in pairs and those two people would be required to travel together.  After a good deal of wrestling with the details, I decided that the expense and time away just were not justified for a wedding.

I hated making the decision.  I honestly did.  I like my wife’s family (for the most part) and it would be great to see my daughter decked out as a bride’s maid.  Her family feels the same way about me and offered to pay for my plane ticket.

Part of the struggle is knowing that I know there are changes that need to be made in my family if my marriage is to survive.  One big change is our finances.  Our resources need to be managed better, spending decreased, budget seriously adhered to, debt reduced (not increased).  That meant (means) not spending more money on the Alaska trip than is needed.  If I do not go, my wife and kids won’t need a rental car or hotel, as well as other expenses reduced.  My son likely won’t get to do the fun things with his father, but more than likely will spend more time with his cousins as a result.  The girls will be consumed with the wedding details for at least half of the trip.  So I presented the hard financial facts to my wife, showing her that best case scenario of savings from my pay would be $400 by June.  I would have to turn down the kind offer of her sister paying for my plane ticket.  She would borrow the money from her sister for her air fare and for our children’s air fare, something that I have real doubts she will be able to repay, especially if she is going to be able to save for expenses during the June trip.

The second time that I said no, my wife agreed with one condition — I would have to tell her sister that I was not going and would not be accepting the money for my plane ticket.  My wife wanted me to email her sister.  I thought about her request, initially bristling, but after a little consideration welcomed the chance to explain to her sister why I was not going.  I didn’t email her, I called her, explained my desire to convey how serious I am about our family finances.  We need to learn to live on what we have.  This is an opportunity to convey that message in a way that shows how serious that I am.

This is a decision that really makes me feel like the bad guy.  I don’t like being the bad guy.  I am one of those people that wants to always be the good guy, enough that I sometimes do not make the hard decisions that I need to make.  Before I made the decision to forego the Alaska trip, I called the person I trust the most in my life, my father.  Dad listened to me, told me that he understands why I need to make the decision, especially considering all he knows about my marriage.  Dad did not tell me what decision I needed to make, but he told me that I was thinking along the right lines, that my reasoning was sound.  He said that there are both positive and negative consequences from the decision, thus the struggle, but the potential positive likely outweighs the negative.  And he said one thing to me that stuck — Steve, you need to make a decision like this one right now.  I thanked him sincerely for the encouragement and for listening to me.  My father has learned to listen to me in the last few years.. and he always tells me that he and my mother pray for me each day.  If you do not know the assurance that the knowledge of someone praying for you gives you, you are missing something.  It is strengthening.

The decision has given the message to my family that I am serious about the money we spend.  The past two weeks, I have put together a day to day menu with a grocery list on Sunday.  I do the grocery shopping, cook most of the meals.  There has been resistance, but the message is being delivered.  It gives some strength to my no response when someone, usually our son, wants fast food or a pint of premium ice cream, luxuries far too common for him (as in daily luxuries).  The next step will likely be eliminating the funds available in the joint checking account, opening my own checking account and leaving only enough cash in the joint account to pay bills.  I am tired of financial stress.

There is a full blog, a ton of information.  Now to start on that bike (I won’t be changing out parts — no money in the budget for that!!!).

Coffee is gone.  Day is ready for me to move…..

Tee Time

Winter activities can be fun.  The frivolity can be endless — snowmen, skiing, ice skating, streaking, ummmm…. you know, snow and ice and exposed skin type of stuff.  I’m certain that I only touched the tip of the iceberg with my list.  Winter also lends itself to opportunities that Summer does not present, indoor activities that may or may not be so filled with frivolity.  I’m talking about something that I only do every twenty years or so..

It was time to clean out my closet and get rid of decades of tee shirts.

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That’s right.  This past weekend I went into the closet and came out…with a whole lot of old tee shirts.  I piled them in the middle of my living room hoping that they would get up and walk away on their own.

Not really.  They are shirts after all.  They don’t have legs.  I think I heard some of them trying to strike a deal with the pants.

I know what you are saying.  Wait, no, you’re asking.  I know what you are asking — how could someone throw away a perfectly good Angry Birds tee shirt?  That is a good question and I feel a bit guilty for separating the tee shirt from it’s matching red Angry Birds fleece pajama pants.  Sometimes one has to be cruel in order to be practical.

There was also the issue of personal safety involved in my decision to cull the tee shirt herd.  Most of my tees were stacked on a long wire shelf along the ceiling of my walk in closet.  I was buried under an avalanche of tee shirts the other morning, rescued by the ever faithful Nick the Sheltie.  Of course, it was his barking that set off the avalanche, so the dog had better have rescued me.

I had a lot of tee shirts.  I still do have a lot of tee shirts, even after getting rid of a lot of my collection.  Getting rid of many of those tee shirts was more difficult than I thought it would be.  Tee shirts are an item than hold a memory — an accomplishment, races or bike events or bike tours, vacations taken, little league baseball teams coached, softball or basketball teams that I played for, gifts from my kids that tell me what they think of me.DSC_0478

There is that Save Ferris tee shirt that my daughter thought was so cool, picked out one day from a bin at Target after we had watched Ferris Buehler’s Day Off for the umpteenth time.  Or the Perry the Platypus tee shirt that she brought back for me when she came back from Walt Disney World, a tribute to our favorite cartoon (Phineas and Ferb — CURSE YOU, PERRY THE PLATYPUS).  There is the NaNoWriMo winner tee and the “Let’s Eat Kids.  Let’s Eat, Kids.  Punctuation Saves Lives!” shirt that remind me that I like to mess around with words now and then.

Amor Ministries shirts are reminders of the three weeks that my wife and I took our kids to Tijuana, building small houses from scratch in the hot August sun.  I was never so proud of them for the hard work and compassion they showed on those trips.  They also got to see me try to work when I was violently ill on one of those trips, maybe the best opportunity I have had to be a good example to them.  I kept one of those Amor tee shirts, threw two away.  I need to keep one just because.

I think the trinket tee shirts that the blood donation centers give are cool.  Those are shirts I don’t wear too often because I feel like I am drawing too much attention to myself, announcing what a good person I must be for donating blood.  Truth is that I go for the free Little Debbie brownies and cold Coca Cola.

It’s hard to say how many tee shirts that I have from riding bicycle events.  When I went through the stacks of ride tee shirts, there were several as old as 1994.  Yeah, I have been riding for a while.  There was a time in my riding life when I would ride several events a month.  I had a lot of friends that rode those events with me, with a ton of stories that go with riding those events, especially the tours that we rode together.  There were at least 20 shirts from RAGBRAI (Des Moines Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa).  Since I have participated in RAGBRAI seven times, I should have a lot of shirts from that ride.  There were three shirts from the event that I am the most proud to have completed, a ride called The Assault on Mount Mitchell, one of the most grueling one day tours that I have done.  A lot of my tee shirts from rides are gone, worn out and thread bare.  I like to talk about riding and wearing a ride tee shirt is often a conversation starter.  There are also the bike safety clinic “rodeo” tee shirts that I have, another source of pride simply because I like that I have the privilege of promoting cycling in my community.

Even after throwing away a lot of ride tees, I have a lot left, judging by the stack of shirts I put back on the closet shelf.DSC_0480

I was a bit in awe at the number of shirts I had/have from coaching youth sports.  Having a son who loves sports will do that to you.  Between baseball (the sports logo tees are from those teams — and I was missing one shirt), basketball, softball (Alyssa) and soccer, I was a very busy man from the time Nate turned 4 until he was 13.  Wow, are there a lot of memories from each of those tees!  Our park district issues the same tee shirt with the city logo on it, in the team color.  I have a large number of those shirts in all kinds of colors.  Then there were the years that I served on the youth baseball association board, with tees from the tournaments that we sponsored.

I liked thinking about coaching my 13 year old daughter when she decided to try playing organized basketball.  There were two tee shirts from that time of my life.  One condition of her deciding to play on the park district team was that I would be one of the team coaches.  I had to quit a production that I had been cast in so that I could coach that team, one of the best decisions that I have ever made, even though the producer of that musical was so angry with me for dropping out that he told me that I would never be cast in a play or sketch or video ever again.  I had been one of the founders of the theater company, a lot of myself was invested in it, so it was a big deal.  An even bigger deal was witnessing my daughter invest herself in the sport of basketball, proud and happy that I was a part of it.  Our girls park district basketball program was designed to prepare our girls for the middle school basketball program.  The park district season finished right before tryouts for the school team.  Alyssa not only made the middle school basketball team, she was a starter on the school team.

There was the tee shirt that my church gave to me to wear when I baptized my son at church.  That one will never be thrown out.

One shirt that held a bittersweet memory for me was a shirt that was awarded for winning a basketball league tournament, a team that was undefeated.  We had to wear those shirts for the first game of the next season.  That basketball team was organized by the director of sales for the company I worked for, my boss’s boss.  Paul was one of the most genuine people I have met, a man who never treated me like he was his superior.  He recruited me to play on that team when I was in my basketball prime.  I don’t think I want to elaborate on that.. but I was very good at the time.  I remember clearly the night that Paul’s wife and children came to watch us play and how proud Paul was to introduce me to them.  I played on teams as a boy that played in the Illinois state championships, placing third at the state tournament one year, but playing on that club basketball team with Paul was as good or better experience than playing on those teams.  Every member on that team played well together, largely because of the guy who led that team.  Basketball developed a close bond between us.

I also gained a true friend in Paul those two seasons I played on that team.  He became someone I could talk to at work without fear of consequence, a supportive leader who brought me back to the company when I left for greener pastures.  Paul also talked to me about the spiritual side of life, about God, in a way that no one else has with me.  What made that part of our relationship unique was that Paul struggled with believing in God.  That struggle led to a conversation that I will remember with sadness for the rest of my life, the day where Paul asked to talk to me about what I believe about God and salvation and what needs to be done for salvation.  He had a sister who believes the same way I do, had shared the same with him — and Paul looked at me straight in the eye, with sadness, as he told me “Steve, I just can’t believe the same way that you do.”.  He couldn’t bring himself to be baptized, couldn’t quite say that he needed to do that, was not quite sure he really believed in God.

A few months later, on a cold January day, Paul parked his car next to a river, walked to the river and committed suicide by stabbing himself multiple times with a knife.  He was found dead in the river.   At his wake, I sobbed as I stood in front of his ash white face in the coffin.  His wife pulled me aside and told me what I had meant as a friend to her husband.. and that he had told me about the conversation I had with him in his office.

I couldn’t bring myself to attend his funeral the next day.  I could not bring myself to accept that good bye.  Looking at that tee shirt last weekend, I knew that it needed to go.  It was a way to say good bye.

Really, I did not think that something as simple as a tee shirt would bring back so many memories.  There were more, plenty more.  Most not as bittersweet as Paul’s story.  Most very happy, proud memories of some of my best days and moments.  They are my trophies, I suppose.

Now that the closet is done, it’s time to move on to an even more daunting task.  Yes, it’s time to clean out my underwear drawer.

That should be a brief task.

 

 

Studly

It’s January somewhere.  That should be a drinking song.  As a cyclist, it could be a reason to drink.  Think about it — cold and ice and snow and wet and yuck yuck yuck.  Many cyclists used to lament the conditions this time of year, use it as an excuse to sit inside on the couch with a big plate of nachos and a libation(s) to numb the pain of not riding.

Technology and a mild winter have changed that for we two wheeled whackos.

If you have never heard of the invention, a bicycle called a “fat” bike is the rage right now.  They started appearing a few years ago, beefy bicycles with wide wheels and huge balloon tires.  I laughed, no SCOFFED when I saw the first fat bike.  What the heck was that person thinking, riding a contraption like that?  Before long, fat bike snobs appeared everywhere, spouting rhetoric such as “you go fat, you’ll never go back”.

Pshawwwwww.

Yes, that’s a real expression.  In the mountain bike world, fat bikes were the answer to suspension, fat bike riders claiming that the balloon tires actually save weight and effort, eliminating the need for shocks.  Clearance issues were no longer a problem, the large tires adding height to a bike.  I have to admit that on more than one winter ride, I have found myself jonesing for a fat bike as I witnessed fat bike riders negotiating the snow covered trails with apparent ease. Those were blizzard rides, however, on trails with a foot of snow and sheer ice underneath.  The fat tires on those bike don’t sink to the ice,.. but when they do, it’s fun for fat bike haters such as myself to watch the suffering.

Baaaaahhhhhhhhh.  Studded tires are better.  Take this morning, for instance.  This morning, I loaded up my old Specialized Hard Rock 26er, outfitted with Nokian studded tires last night, drove to meet my friend Jon and a few of his friends at Palos Forest Preserve for a January frozen trails ride.  The trails are snow and ice covered right now, spectacular in winter beauty.  Palos is a beautiful place, especially this time of year.  The trails there can be treacherous in dry weather, much less icy cold snowy conditions.  It was going to be a challenge.

Jon didn’t show.  Jon, my humble and exceptionally talented friend, the one riding friend who has not succumbed to the fat bike craze.

So it was up to me to provide trail guide services to three crazed fat bike riders.

I had to laugh at times.  Studded snow tires for fat bikes are outrageously expensive.  None of the three had studded tires.  We have some snow on the ground, but it’s mostly ice due to the also mostly mild winter we have had in Chicagoland.  Studs were better than fats this morning.  Since I was trail guide, I intentionally guided the three noobs to trails with steep drops and equally steep, twisted climbs.  My studs stuck to the trail with glue like reliability.  The wide surface of the fat bike tires just turned any challenging section of trail into a skate fest.

Heh heh heh.

The ride this morning was a blast, my first ice ride of the season.  I needed to spin some wheels today, especially since I do not have a functional rear road wheel right now, preventing me from riding the indoor trainer (ummmmm…. drat).  Adding to my pleasure was the experience of driving my new VW on the highway for the first time, with bike inside the cabin.  It performed admirably.  I think I will keep it.

One other note — mountain biking keeps one humble.  I know that is difficult to believe, but it’s true.  Just when I feel like I have had the best, most perfect and skilled ride ever, something happens that brings me down to earth.  Literally.  Mountain biking brings me down to earth.  15 or so miles of flawless riding this morning, I fell less than a quarter mile from the parking lot.  My left knee has a nice contusion, even though I was wearing two layers of incredibly sexy tights.

Yet I still am feeling studly.

And I do want a fat bike.  I’ll be a hater until I get one.2016 Jan Palos

 

 

 

Some Cars Blue

The verdict is in — my VW Golf TDI has been declared a total loss.  I am going to miss that car.  It performed very well, turned on a dime, went forever on a tank of fuel, and the six speed manual transmission made me feel like a race car driver.  Volkswagen has a way of making the best use of a small space and the Golf was no exception.  While it wasn’t the best choice for hauling a lot of stuff, it hauled four people comfortably.

I received the news this past Thursday afternoon, first when the insurance adjuster left a phone message in response to my call to check claim status, saying that my claim had been moved to the total loss adjuster.  That prompted me to check VW Credit online, where a letter dated two days prior notified me that insurance had indeed notified the credit company that my car was totaled.  A call to VW Credit gave me more information, facts that threw me into an instant funk.  The news sounded worse than it probably actually is.  State Farm, the other driver’s insurance and the claim holder had advised the lien holder that they would be paying about $2600 less than the payoff amount.  I would have to file a gap claim for the remainder.

Drat.

The news could have been worse.  I could have opted out of the gap insurance when I financed the car.

State Farm returned my call after four messages.  They confirmed the total loss, went over the claim and the features of my car, added another $1200 to the amount that they would pay VW Credit.

Next was to get the form for the gap claim.  I have to wait to file the gap claim until State Farm has written the check to the lien holder.

It took a few hours, but I got all of the facts together, recovered from the initial shock.  My boss contacted a lawyer for me, even offered to pay for a lawyer.  We talked to him together, got the facts straight there.  I may be filing a suit against the person who was driving the car that hit me.  We shall see.  My Christian upbringing makes me flinch at bringing a lawsuit against anyone.  If common sense says do it, however, I will.

Home found me more upbeat, cheerful even.  I like looking at cars and now I would be looking at cars.  By 7 PM, I had two appointments with car sales people for the next day.  I had gone online and picked out a few cars I wanted to look at.  VW seemed logical to me if only because a VW had just proven how safe it could be.

Long story short, I was able to buy a 2012 VW Tiguan yesterday.  Blue.  Panoramic sunroof.  Black leatherette seats with heaters in the front seats.  Navigation system.  Automatic transmission, much to the joy of the other two drivers in my household.  The deal was painless, pleasant, with my new car payment almost equal to the payment I had on the other car.  This car is an upgrade to the Golf.

And now there are two blue VWs in my driveway.

Neil Diamond would be singing ♫Some cars blue, every Henry has onnnnnnnne♫.

 

It’s Only A Flesh Wound

I feel like a weenie now that I have seen the pictures, at least until I look at one picture — the side view of the front seats.  A look at the external damage, even at the back of the car, says that perhaps the car that hit us wasn’t going as fast as I guessed.  Either that or God said “Let’s take it easy this time”.  Maybe just maybe that girl in the car behind us slowed down before she hit us.

The accident report says “Driver 1,…, stated that she did not see the stopped vehicles ahead of her in time to avoid a crash.  Vehicle 1 struck the rear of Vehicle 2 which was propelled forward into Vehicle 3.”.

Dealing with the police department to get the report details was pleasant.  I think I made a new friend at the records department of the Tippecanoe County Sheriff’s department.  We had a very nice conversation.  She was nice enough to offer to give me as much information I needed to file my claim(s) with the insurance company.  Apparently in Indiana one has to pay for a copy of the accident report.  Her good bye included a command to call her back as much as I needed to.  I like people like that.

My next call was a fact finding mission with my insurance company.  The call was over an hour but productive.  I talked with two very helpful people.  Filing a claim with my insurance company is not necessary, especially since the other driver’s insurance is accepting fault.  Talking with my insurance carrier, however, did help get the ball rolling on a claim with the at fault insurance carrier.  The claims adjuster for my insurance (Geico) called the other insurance carrier, let them know that I would be calling, then called me back with the claim number to reference when I called.

Patience is a virtue that I am learning as I get older, thank goodness, and it helped me make it through the beginning of the claims process.

Next call was to the phone number provided by Driver 1 for insurance.  The number was the insurance agent and not the insurance carrier.  Things had been to pleasant up to the point of that call, so the insurance agent had to attempt to throw some sour grapes at me.  The woman I talked to on the phone went instantly into defense mode.  Don’t quote me on this, but I swear she had to have said “I know you are but what am I?” more than once.  After assuring her several times that I meant her no harm, I did obtain the phone number for the claims department of State Farm insurance, albeit given to me begrudgingly.  Needless to say, the insurance agent did not leave me with a request to call her back lest I need anything else.

I’m pretty sure that I am going to write her phone number on the walls of a few mens’ rest rooms.

State Farm was good, professional (as expected), and explained the whole process for my claim very well.  Starting with my insurance company was a good move because the ball was already rolling by the time I got to State Farm.  I’m a bit wary of the whole process, but am remaining optimistic.  One thing that I do not like too much is that State Farm is going to write one check TO ME for the hospital bills.  In other words, I have to submit the bills and pay the bills to the hospital, then make my claim to State Farm.  I asked if they would just pay the bills directly rather than make me risk completely ruining my credit score from paying medical bills late, but they said that they just can’t do it that way.

Jake from State Farm has a funny stain on his khakis.  And I am hoping that State Farm really is a good neighbor, not a so-so neighbor.

I do have a rental car, arranged by the insurance company.  My car has been towed to a State Farm certified repair shop.  They will inspect the car, assess the damage, offer me a quote if it can be repaired, ask for approval before any repairs.  If the car is deemed to be a lost cause, then the process goes to a different type of claim.  I am hoping it can be repaired.  My car earned my respect for keeping my child, someone else’s child, and myself safe in what could have been a very bad situation.  I want to keep that car around for as long as I can.

Let’s hope my next blog has pictures of a shiny restored VW…..